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Bush urges Congress to ratify free-trade pact with Colombia

Bush urges Congress to ratify free-trade pact with Colombia

President George W. Bush urged a wary Congress on Wednesday to give Colombian President Alvaro Uribe a fair hearing and approve a free-trade deal with his scandal-tainted government.
"The president is hear to speak strongly about his record, and it's a good solid record," Bush said on the White House South Lawn alongside Uribe, his staunchest ally in Latin America.
"I thank the members of Congress for giving him a hearing," Bush said. "We expect them to be open-minded."
Uribe's morning meeting with Bush launched a three-day lobbying trip in Washington. His goal is to revive an important bilateral free trade deal and maintain a strong military aid package from the United States.
Signed by the Bush administration in November, the trade deal is now stalled in Congress due to Democratic concerns over Colombia's human rights record and the government's ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.
Bush told Congress to consider the implications of the deal with Colombia and two pending pacts with Peru and Panama.
"It is very important for this nation to stand with democracies that protect human rights and human dignity, democracies based upon the rule of law," Bush said. "So the free trade agreement with Colombia, Peru and Panama _ these agreements are more than just trade votes."
Uribe thanked the United States for its help, saying security in his country is important for all. He said he will make the case to Congress that U.S. aid is helping his country combat drug trafficking, defeat terrorism and promote democracy.
"We haven't won yet in eradicating illicit drugs, but we are winning," Uribe said. "And it is very important, the free trade agreement. I will explain in Capitol Hill, and I will explain to the American citizens the same I explain to President Bush this morning: The more our country can export, the better for my country to have high-quality jobs."
Many in Congress oppose not only the trade deal _ out of concern for potential U.S. job losses and Colombia's poor record of protecting union leaders _ but also the military focus of Plan Colombia, the anti-narcotics and counterinsurgent program that has cost American taxpayers more than $5 billion (euro3.7 billion) since 2000.
Uribe's trip is packed full of visits with more than a dozen Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
At home, Uribe faces charges that he colluded with right-wing paramilitary groups accused of some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's long-running conflict. Uribe denies the charges and is still widely esteemed at home for putting Latin America's most powerful leftist insurgency on the defensive.


Updated : 2021-03-05 18:56 GMT+08:00